Three Down-Draft Heat Sinks: The Last Of A Dying Breed?

Down-Draft Coolers For Compact Cases

Most of our heat sink round-ups involve tower-style, or cross-draft coolers. Rarely do we venture into down-draft designs because, well, there simply aren't as many of them out there. Of course, that didn't stop us from wondering if the more common cross-draft configurations offer some sort of practical advantage, or if down-draft arrangements can perform just as well.

The vendors, at least, tell us that tower-style coolers are the better choice for most scenarios, and that they’re the way to go for high-performance and gaming PCs. On the other hand, down-draft heat sink and fan combos are recommended in home theater PCs (HTPCs) and more compact desktops.

There are two reasons for this. First, down-draft coolers can be installed in slimmer cases; they can be built in such a way that they require less clearance above the CPU, if only because of the way their fans are positioned. Second, and also a result of fan positioning, surrounding components like memory, the chipset, and voltage regulation circuitry also receive some cooling (and not just the CPU). Down-draft coolers actually look fairly good on paper. We set out to see how they fare in practice.

We went ahead and asked all of the heat sink vendors for their best down-draft designs, ultimately leaving the submission choice up to the manufacturers. Only three companies ended up submitted samples, though the resulting field represents the current crop of top-down coolers pretty well, including a number of performance and price levels.

Our three down-draft coolers are the Enermax ETD-T60-VD, the Noctua NH-L12, and the Scythe SCKC-2100 (also sold as the Scythe Grand Kama Cross Rev. B). Prices run the gamut, from Scythe's $44 and Enermax's $55, all the way to Noctua's $72.

  • boulbox
    My h100 is horrible compared to this :(
  • JohnnyLucky
    WOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.
  • killerclick
    Scythe coolers are the best overall, but 1000+ RPM is just too high.
  • Darkerson
    I used to have a Thermaltake Dualorb, and it was really nice because both fans would also blow over the ram and and chipset heatsink. I am currently using a 2500k running at 5GHz with a CM Hyper 212+, and my ambient on the cores is around 28-30, and peak is on average about 67-68c. At any rate, interesting article.
  • luciferano
    JohnnyLuckyWOW! Sound levels are way above advertised levels.
    Don't forget to account for ambient noise, which is already often higher than the rated loudness of many coolers.
  • with the enermax and noctua both @ $68 the scythe is a steal @ $40 on amazon.
  • antemon
    coolermaster didn't send in their vortex (which is what i have)
  • merikafyeah
    It has been my life-long dream to pair a Cooler Master GeminII S524:
    with the greatest 140mm desktop PC fan in existence, the Sanyo Denki 9LB1412M501:
    Specs: 140x140 51mm 138CFM 2000rpm 39dBA 12V 0.5A
    Essentially the most perfect balance of airflow to noise I have ever seen.

    I can only imagine how well this fan can cool not only the CPU but virtually the entire upper half of the motherboard as well. Alas, my dream will remain a dream since although I know where to buy the fan, the min. order quantity is 10, pushing the total price to at least $500; way out of my reach.

    But speaking of which, Tom's, why not compare motherboard voltage regulator and RAM module temps with these top-down coolers vs tower coolers? Myself and many overclockers will be extremely interested in these temps.
  • doive1231
    You could just get an Ivy Bridge CPU and sleep tight.
  • rantoc
    Top->Down coolers are my favourite choice for building normal non-oc rigs since they cool so much more than just the cpu, as for overclocking "real water" cooling with extra spot on fan for the voltage regulators + ram is my favourite. Seem some forget that with water/air tower designs the MB don't get much often needed airflow around the upper part of the MB.